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Plant Profile: Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

Teddy bear cholla in bloom

Native to hot desert areas of northwestern Mexico, California, Arizona, and Nevada, the teddy bear cholla is a shrub or small tree in the cactus family, Cactaceae, and closely related to prickly pears. The plants grow up to 8′ tall and have a stout, upright trunk with many jointed branches 2-10″ long. The lower branches fall off leaving a tree like plant. The trunk and branches are green and densely covered with silvery white spines up to 1″ long and covered with a detachable, paper-like sheath. The spines create a soft fuzzy appearance resembling teddy-bear’s arms that belies their danger to passers-by. In spring and summer, yellow-green flowers appear at the tips of the stems. They are up to 1.5″ across, sometimes red-tipped, and give way to fruits that contains few viable seeds. Reproduction is by the rooting of stems that drop to the ground as the plant matures. Pack rats use the detached stems as a defense around their burrows. Teddy bear cholla does well in a xeriscape and is a popular choice for cactus, desert, rock, and Mediterranean gardens. The genus name, Cylindropuntia, comes from Greek words kylindros, meaning cylinder, referring to the form of the stems, and Opus, the name of an ancient Greek city used as the genus name for a different plant. The specific epithet, bigelovii, honors American botanist John Milton Bigelow (1804 – 1878).

Type: Shrub or small tree

Outstanding Feature: Soft appearance; drought tolerance

Form: Upright, branched

Growth Rate: Slow

Bloom: Yellow-green flowers sometimes tipped with red in spring to summer

Size: 1-8′ H x 1-8′ W

Light: Full sun

Soil: Lean, dry, very well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 9-11

Care: Low maintainance

Pests and Diseases: None of significance but root rot a problem in poorly drained soil

Propagation: Rooting of detached joints

Outstanding Selections: None available

Photo Credit: Adbar Wikipedia